In my last post, I wrote about Craig Raine, one of my tutors at New College, and one of the people who's influenced me profoundly.
Craig has a belief in language. I don't have the essay to hand in which he articulates this, but, essentially, he takes issue with the notion that anything is beyond the power of words to express. Of course, many things are torturously, maddeningly difficult to force into verbal form. But it is for the writer, the poet, the speaker to strain against that difficulty.
I've been thinking a lot, these past few months, about defeatism. And, yes, this is for personal, non-literary reasons. And never have I been more powerfully convinced that Craig's belief is the right one. Nothing is impossible to communicate. Never should we despair of our power to express, to describe, to reach out. And I don't care if it's futile, if it's foolish. It is all we have.
Think of the person who gives up because something is too hard. She is paralysed, like a character out of Joyce's Dubliners. She opts out of the struggle.
She is like the writer who believes that love can never fully be described — and so decides never to write about love. And never to write about pain. And never to write about joy.
Never, finally, to write about anything beyond her own paralysis.
The writer who spins inward, who cocoons herself in the brittle shell of her own introspection, surrounding herself ever more airlessly. Waiting. For what? For the bright shock of blood? For the earthquake, for the flood?
The whole of literature — and the whole of life (which is, really, the same thing) — is a journey through vast, dark caverns, with only a box of matches to light the way. And no doubt it seems futile to keep striking the matches. But perhaps, if we do, we add our own tiny light to the billions of other twinklings. In that light, perhaps, fleetingly, we catch a reflection off a dark pool, or the minute impossible world of a patch of moss. And in these tiny incursions upon the dark, we show ourselves to be strong, to be hopeful, to be human.
Leaving — reluctantly, sadly — those who clutch their matches in hot palms, despairing to strike. Shrouded, alone.